The other week some of my friends and I went to see a boxing match but found that we were fighting before we got in the door. The fight was at a local church, an odd venue for such an event, but the church had a good heart in that it was trying to use the occasion to bring in the “unchurched.” When we got there, a discussion arose in which the three most passionate fighters of the evening were present: my friends Joel and Austin, along with myself. Joel and I tag teamed Austin arguing with him about musical aesthetics. The conversation even dove into our beliefs about God and how He would represent himself in music.
Austin claimed that God is a God of order and that He would be more honored through ordered music that had a general structure. His champion band was Coldplay. Joel and I argued that God is a creative God and has given us the human charge of being creative, so therefore the logical conclusion is that God is more honored by creative music, no matter what the structure may look like. Our champions were Anathallo and The Mars Volta.
Both points were valid and could be argued either way. When our conversation ended we agreed to disagree, sealing our friendship once again with a group hug. After this, I made a comment that astounded me. Sometimes I will say simple things and then think about them later to find that they are really profound. I believe that this is one way that God speaks to me, because normally the profundity of the passage escapes me at the moment.
Anyway, I said, “Man, I feel like a denomination.”
We argued about something so small, which music God is more honored by, and yet we all became very passionate about it to the point where we were raising our voices. Now we all knew it was a friendly argument, and we all smiled the whole way through. However, it does make me think about the Church and how we can divide ourselves so greatly based on so little. Austin and I still talk about music because there are so many bands that we both like and listen to often, just as there is so much to talk about, agree on and worship God for.
In the summer of 2005, I went to Italy on a missions trip. While on the trip I spoke with a number of people about Christ. The collective thing that I heard was this paraphrase: “Why should I worship the Christian God when I look at the Catholic Church in Italy and all I see is hypocrisy, and when I look at the Protestant Church in America, all I see are a bunch of warring factions. If I joined any religion, it would be Islam, because its followers are devoted and unified.”
The validity of those statements is debatable, as most things are, but either way this is the mindset that I saw and heard from some individuals while in Italy. This is how much of the world views the Church, as warring factions. I believe this has resulted from a shifting of priorities that has happened in the Church, and now most churches in America major on minor issues. Major issues such as the resurrection, love for all people and discipleship have been replaced with minor issues such as prosperity, spiritual gifts and church presentation styles.
Jesus’ last prayer before He was arrested was that we would be one, as He and the Father are one (John 17:20-23). He saw that, in order for this message to be effective, people would have to see it demonstrated. It’s easy for us to sit in church and hear messages entitled “They Will Know We Are Christians by Our Love” and then show it by going out to lunch after the service. It’s harder to take that same message and break through denominational barriers.
A man of God that I deeply respect believes in the speaking of tongues and exercises the gift in his life, yet he is one of the elders at a church that believes tongues have ceased. He believed that church was the church he was supposed to attend, and their beliefs being opposite of his own were inconsequential to him. He knew how to major on the majors.
It’s funny to me that when Paul talks about the spiritual gifts (possibly the most controversial issue between denominations) in 1 Corinthians 12, all he talks about is the unity of the Spirit. My pastor told me that the Corinthian church was a church that believed that they knew everything about everything. So when Paul writes to them about the spiritual gifts, instead of talking about how to use each and what they are and giving specific details, he simply talks about the unity of the Spirit.
So what’s the conclusion of this matter? Should we all forsake our denominational churches? By all means, no! The Bible equates the Church to a body, where every part is essential. Paul even says that those parts that seem to be weaker are indispensable and that when one part of the body suffers, every part suffers with it (1 Corinthians 12).
If you ever find yourself looking at a mega-church pastor and thinking that they have it all wrong, just remember that they are still part of the body. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot. Some people see different aspects of God that you may either not understand or not see as important. God is too big for one person to completely understand any one aspect of Him.